In 2015, it may seem like there’s hardly a difference between a major label release and one from a big indie. Sure, artists may still get bigger bonuses and better backing when it comes to the majors, but many of today’s best musicians are happy to sacrifice upfront cash for creative control. Part of the appeal for rappers like MF Doom is that they can experiment and take chances as they see fit. And even buzzy upstarts like Chance the Rapper are eschewing advance cash in order to work with whomever they choose at their own particular pace.

The indie route, more often than not, leads to a special experience in which people of different backgrounds and expertise can come together under one common purpose—to create music that is unique, powerful, and reaches an audience that is equally diverse. The indie option also allows the artist a kind of self-expression that is rarely possible working under a mega-label. For this reason, more than any other, musical artists strive to cultivate the kind of organic awareness required to make an indie release pop—and they work just as hard to protect the freedom that follows. Through their own supportive communities, networks, and collaborators, these seven artists have succeeded with a little help from their friends (that is, not from major labels).